It is one of the touchiest, most inflammatory subjects I know, and if you get into it, you will be accused of McCarthyism, for sure. No problem. I’m talking about American liberals and their relationship with the violent Left. The subject has come up again because of Kathy Boudin: Columbia has hired her as an adjunct professor; NYU has made her a scholar-in-residence.
She is, of course, a Weather Underground terrorist, and largely unrepentant, as far as I can tell. Susan Rosenberg was, and is, unrepentant too.
I wrote about Rosenberg early in 2001, because of what President Clinton did: In the waning hours of his presidency, he granted clemency to both her and Linda Sue Evans. He did not do the same for Kathy Boudin. Maybe he regarded that as a bridge too far? Anyway, my piece is called “Clinton’s Rosenberg Case,” here.
In this period, I thought long and hard about liberals and leftist terror. Bill Clinton, the editors of the New York Times, the English department at Amherst College: They would never kill policemen. They would never blow up young people as they danced at Fort Dix. But they would be tender toward those who do, wouldn’t they? Haven’t they?
Bob Tyrell had a name for certain people he observed in college: “coat-and-tie liberals.” They were not the scruffy radicals, who were naked in their aims. They were respectable, but they were not far off in their thinking from the radicals. Perhaps they considered the radicals purer, in a way?
I also think of good ol’ Clinton, and what he wrote to that ROTC head, way back: “I decided to accept the draft in spite of my beliefs for one reason: to maintain my political viability within the system.”
Last year, I returned to the theme of liberals and terror, or liberals and “political crime”: I wrote a piece called “Aren’t They Cute? America and some special criminals” (here). The occasion for this piece was the reemergence of George Wright, who now calls himself by a Portuguese name — José Luís Jorge dos Santos.
Toward the end of this piece, I did some general ruminating:
Why is it that so many liberals are so tender toward Rosenberg, Evans, et al.? Why do these terrorists, who are generally unrepentant, receive such sympathetic treatment from the Times, The New Yorker, 60 Minutes, etc.? Is it because liberals, some of them, “hold their manhoods cheap” for not being part of the “struggle” themselves? Do they feel guilt over “preserving their viability within the system” (to paraphrase Clinton)? Do they regard The Family as “liberals in a hurry”? Rosa Parkses with itchy fingers?
Discussion of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn was essentially out of bounds during the 2008 presidential campaign. Question Obama’s friendship with them, and you were slammed as uncouth, at best. Ayers and Dohrn are considered almost quaint figures now — living mementos of a colorful past, of “crazy times.” Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the Cuban-American politician, has said he doesn’t know how Castro can seem cute after decades of torturing people. To many, Ayers and Dohrn seem cute, too.
Ayers once summed up his situation to David Horowitz in a memorable way: “Guilty as hell, free as a bird — America is a great country.”
It is, yes. But not because of the Weather Underground or the Black Liberation Army. More because of people such as their victims.
I’m not sure I have the full answer on American liberals and the violent Left. But I do know that some liberals will always defend, excuse, and honor these people — for example, by giving them prestigious jobs in universities.
Elie Kedourie once had some advice for David Pryce-Jones: “Keep your eye on the corpses.” It is good advice. It applies not only to genocidal killers such as the Khmer Rouge, but also to smaller fry such as Kathy Boudin and her gang: Keep your eye on the corpses.
Boudin is famous — she’s a professor, a venerated criminal. She stood up to the Man, you know. But do you know the names of the Men she and her friends managed to “off” in 1981? Peter Paige, Waverly Brown, and Edward O’Grady. Brown was a kind of civil-rights pioneer, the first black officer on his force.